Before fabric softener existed, people had a very peculiar way of making cloth feel more pleasant on the skin. The people that were enlisted to perform this job was dubbed the fuller, and the fabric that most commonly needed to be softened was wool.
That’s when the fuller — or wool fuller — would come into the picture. Wool fullers basically “fulled” whatever cloth they were working with using their feet. It doesn’t sound like a terribly painful job, but there’s an element of what the role entailed that is definitely less than desirable.
Stale urine was the ingredient of choice that helped make fabrics softer, believe it or not. The ammonium salts that can be found in the urine help soften and cleanse the cloth, and also brightened white clothing as well. Urine was even taxed because of how often it was used for fulling purposes — that’s how important this process and job was back in the day.
Fulling may be dated back to ancient Roman times, but this job was especially important in medieval England. Wool became an incredibly lucrative business at the time, so fullers were always needed.
While the English wouldn’t make the wool clothing items themselves, they exported the wool to other countries, notably Flanders, where the demand for English wool was extremely high.
So the fullers would have to stomp around in other people’s old urine for hours at a time until the fabrics were soft enough to wear.